(WAR against JAPAN, 1942-45 – continued)
Japan was supplying its troops in Burma by ships on a two thousand mile journey southward around the Malay Peninsula, and it was losing those ships to attacks by U.S. submarines. Instead of supplying its troops in Burma by ships, the Japanese decided to build a railway from Bangkok to Rangoon through dense jungle, using Japanese engineers and an abundance of prisoner-of-war labor that it held and the labor of local people – in place of machines. The prisoners-of-war were taken north to Thailand in ships under conditions similar to the "hell ships" that carried American prisoners from the Philippines to Japan.
On this subject, the movie called Bridge on the River Kwai was almost totally fiction. After the main railway bridge was built – a steel bridge over the River Mae Klong – the laborers were put to work cutting through jungle and laying track. The building of the railway was progressing too slowly, and the Japanese in charge were ordered by Tokyo to speed up. They were suffering from a shortage of labor at the same time that they were reducing their labor supply through mistreatment and lack of care. Again, guards were men low in respect among the Japanese and determined to prove themselves by their brutality against those lower than they – the prisoners. Daily they beat prisoner-doctors who were trying to protect ill men from being dragged back to work. An estimated 13,000 prisoners of war died from disease, sickness, starvation and brutality. And 80,000 Asian laborers also died. It is said that the film Bridge on the River Kwai sanitised the treatment of prisoners building the railway.
Australians, the British and Americans, meanwhile, were working their prisoners-of-war, but at a reasonable number of hours per day, without the brutality, with sufficient food and medical attention.
Copyright © 2000-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.